Columbus State faculty sign open letter asking university to make online the “default mode: for fall 2020 classes

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COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) – As Georgia continues its reopening process and COVID-19 case numbers continue to climb higher across the state, more than 100 faculty members at Columbus State University have drafted and signed an open letter calling for online classes to be the “default mode” for the fall semester.

The letter lays out three main goal posts for returning to in-person instruction, that the faculty who signed the letter are requesting from the University System of Georgia and CSU:

  • New COVID-19 cases in our area show a steady decrease over a period of at least two weeks, as per CDC guidelines, AND
  • The state, university system, and university have protocols in place to conduct large-scale testing, effective contact tracing, and quarantining of those who have tested positive or have had recent close contact with others who have tested positive.
  • Immediately develop and implement testing, contact tracing, and quarantining protocols for those students, faculty and staff who need access to campus residences and on-campus laboratories or other specialized facilities.

Included with the letter are a number of references to local stories about the ongoing battle with the coronavirus in Columbus and the surrounding area.

At 3 p.m., an hour before News 3 received a copy of the open letter, the Georgia Department of Public Health had released its latest COVID-19 Daily Status Report, showing that Muscogee County had a total of 2,976 cases of the coronavirus. The state of Georgia reported a total of 123,963 cases statewide.

“The ground is continually shifting, and in terms of coronavirus, I think what we’re trying to do is to create a climate which is safest for everyone, students, staff, and faculty,” said Dr. Amanda Rees, a professor at CSU and one of the contacts listed with the statement sent out by faculty.

The faculty senate leadership has reached out to the professors who wrote and organized the open letter, asking if they would like the faculty senate’s support, according to Rees. Just as importantly, Rees said faculty are focused on reconnecting with students for the coming semester, but safety is one of the primary goals.

“We are really looking forward to getting back with students and helping them learn, but we need to make sure everyone is safe throughout that process,” said Rees.

In the letter from faculty, concerns regarding testing, reopening plans, and safety protocols are highlighted, and the faculty position is said to be based off of guidelines from the faculty handbook, detailed in a portion of the statement below:

In summary, we lack confidence that USG’s current plans and protocols for the return to face-to-face instruction are adequate to protect the health and wellbeing of our students and fellow employees, as well as all our families and surrounding communities. As stated in our faculty handbook, “the academic profession carries with it special responsibilities. Faculty members should demonstrate ethical behavior in their professional dealings with students, colleagues, staff, and persons outside the university.” Amid a deadly pandemic, we believe that our ethical obligations demand that we be honest with our students and ourselves and immediately concede that, despite our best intentions, we are unable to provide the protections our community needs to return to face-to-face instruction in this health crisis. We are ethically bound to take decisive and proven action to ensure a safe learning environment.

Portion of the open letter submitted by a group of Columbus State University faculty regarding COVID-19 safety on campus.

News 3 reached out to Columbus State University for a response to the letter from faculty. We will update the story when a response has been made public.

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